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SANDS: Top chess players in action at home and abroad
Question of the Day
It’s an embarrassment of riches for a chess journalist these days, with not one but two major tournaments in progress across the pond and the U.S. championships gearing up to start in St. Louis later this week.
In Zug, Switzerland, GMs Gata Kamsky and Hikaru Nakamura, the top-rated American players, are in the field for the third FIDE Grand Prix tournament, a series of six events over the next two years that will seed two candidates for the 2014 world championship candidates’ cycle. Former world champion Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, now on the comeback trail, is setting the pace in the Category 21 event which concludes Tuesday, with Nakamura alone in second a full point back.
Russian star GM Alexander Morozevich took the early lead in Zug, but came back to the field with a string of losses in the second half of the tournament. Kamsky registered his best performance of the tournament in taking down the mercurial Russian star in their Round 9 contest last week.
Morozevich has an affinity for unusual openings, but his original response to Kamsky’s e-pawn opening does not bear fruit here. By 12. Nxd4 cxd4 13. Na4 Qc7 14. f4 a5 15. Be1, White has a pleasant space advantage while Black has to keep a constant watch on his pawn on d4. Morozevich would later criticize his own 19. b3 Nf6?! (Ne5 20. f6! Bh6 21. Bf4! Nxd3 22. Qxd3 Bf5 23. Qxd4 Re4 24. Qxb6 Qxb6+ 25. Nxb6 Rxf4 26. Nxa8 Bxb1 27. Rxb1 Rxf6 28. Re1 is also good for White, but 19…Nc5 looks very playable) as the start of a bad defensive plan, and by 23. fxg6 hxg6 24. Re4! Bd7 (allowing White’s attack to flower, but 24…Bf5 25. Bh4 Qc7 26. Rxe5! Rxe5 27. Rxf5! gxf5 28. Qh6 gives White a powerful initiative as well) 25. Bh4 Qc7 26. g4, pushing ahead with 26…Ng3 27. Rxe5! dxe5 28. Qh6 Qd6 29. Rxf7! Kxf7 30. Qh7+ Kf8 31. Bxg6 is winning for White.
With Black’s pieces providing little defense, Kamsky blasts through nicely on 26…f5 27. Rxe5! dxe5 28. Qh6 (with the threat of 29. Qxg6+ Ng7 30. gxf5 Bxa4 31. f6 Qf7 32. Qh7+ Kf8 33. fxg7 mate) e4 29. d6! Qb7 (Qxd6 30. c5! — clearing c4 and the diagonal for the bishop — bxc5 31. Bc4+ Be6 32. Qxg6+ Ng7 [Kf8 33. Rxf5+ Nf6 34. Rxf6+ Ke7 35. Rf7 mate] 33. gxf5, and both the Black bishop and knight are pinned) 30. Nxb6 Re6 (Qxb6 31. Qxg6+ Ng7 32. Bf6 and wins) 31. gxh5 g5 32. Qxg5+ Kh8 33. Qxf5 Rg8+ 34. Kh2 exd3 — Morozevich has a rook for a knight and three pawns, but his king remains in desperate straits.
It’s over after 35. Bf6+ Rxf6 36. Qxf6+ Kh7 37. Nd5! Bxh3 (desperation) 38. Kxh3 Qd7+ 39. Kh2 d2 40. Qe7+, and Black resigns.
Also on tap is the Alekhine Memorial, being held this year in Paris and St. Petersburg, with a field featuring the reigning world champion, Viswanathan Anand of India, and the former world titleholder Vladimir Kramnik of Russia.
But it was Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave who set the pace in the first half of the event, held in the Louvre, and it was his countryman GM Laurent Fressinet who scored the biggest upset with a shocking demolition of Kramnik in their Round 5 encounter.
Kramnik has made a nice career out of 1. Nf3, but he appears taken aback by Black’s unusual 2…Nc6!? and by Fressinet’s aggressive pawn gambit just four moves later. White meets the pawn offer with two substandard moves — 7. dxe5?! (Nxe5 Nxe5 8. dxe5 0-0-0 9. Bg2 Ne7 10. Nf3 Nc3 11. Bf4 h6 12. Nd4 looks at least slightly better for White) 0-0-0 8. e3?, a move that weakens a number of squares and signals that this just may not have been the Russian’s day.
But credit Fressinet for stepping up to the challenge, with a piece sacrifice that mercilessly exposes White’s lack of development and crumbling kingside: 10. b4 h5! 11. b5 hxg4! (far stronger than retreating the knight) 12. bxc6 Nxc6 13. e6 Qxe6 14. Nd4 Nxd4 15. cxd4 Be7, and Black, with three pawns for the piece and a much safer king, is already close to winning. Black shows no let-up in the ensuing play, banging away along the e-file and at the weak f2-square until his opponent’s defenses collapse.
Thus: 19. Ba3 Bh4! 20. Nf1 (Black threatened 20…Qxe3+) g5! (White has no answer to the push of the kingside pawns) 21. Rh2 g4 22. Be2 Be4 23. Rc1 (fleeing with 23. 0-0-0 loses to 23…Bg2! 24. Ng3 Bxg3 25. fxg3 Qxe3+ 26. Rd2 Qxg3, winning) Bg2 24. Qa5 Rc8 (Black has plenty of time to parry White’s one-move threats) 25. Rc2 (see diagram) Bxf2+!, luring the White king into the path of the onrushing pawns. After 26. Kxf2 Bxf1 27. Kxf1 (Bxf1 g3+! 28. Kxg3 Qf5 29. Rd2 Rcg8+ leads to mate) g3 28. Bf3 gxh2 29. Ke2 Rhg8 30. Bc5 a6 31. Bh1 Rg2+! 32. Bxg2, Kramnik resigned before Black could play 32…hxg2, leading to at least one more Black queen on the board. As Romanian GM Christian Ioan-Chirila remarked in his annotations of the game for Chessbase.com, Alekhine himself — a world champion who represented both Russia and France — would have been impressed by the Frenchman’s play.
Nakamura declined to defend his U.S. title this year, but Kamsky will be in St. Louis this week as the No. 1 seed. Marking the fifth year the event has been hosted by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, the championship will revert to the old 24-player Swiss invitational format, with Kamsky joined by such stalwarts as GMs Alex Onischuk, Alex Shabalov, and recently named Samford fellow GM Sam Shankland. IM Irina Krush will defend her 2012 women’s title in a 10-player field that includes arch rival IM Anna Zatonskih and former champion WGM Camila Baginskaite. We’ll have all the action and color from St. Louis in upcoming columns.
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About the Author
Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.
At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...
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